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Quality standard marches on

THE recent release of a major new revision of the ISO 9001 quality management system standard gives organisations the opportunity to improve how they do business.

The new revision couldn’t have come at a better time, with management starting to question what benefits have been achieved from their significant investments in quality systems.

At the time of the previous revision in 1994, Australia was highly receptive to such a standard and many government contracts stipulated that organisations res-ponding to tenders must be certified to the standard. In turn, many organisations were keen to demonstrate that they used quality processes and provided quality products and services. But over subsequent years much of that enthusiasm has waned.

Why? I believe there are two main reasons.

Firstly, there have been many instances where the standard has been used inappropriately. Basically the standard has been applied too literally. People need to appreciate that the organisation which develops the standard, the International Organisation for Standards, com-prises approximately 100 delegates from over 30 countries. Imagine the difficulty getting consensus across that range of cultures. What this implies is that the interpretation of the intent of the standard is as important as the specific wording. This is a factor that many organisations haven’t realised.

Secondly, management have often seen the standard as a “one-off” project rather than as a business management philosophy. For example, the standard has been seen as a necessary evil for bidding contracts and has been delegated like any other project. It is a sad fact that lack of management commitment (and involvement) has been the single biggest factor in organisations failing to apply the standard effectively. What is sad is that most of these organisations already use good management practices, and good management practices are the primary focus of the standard.

Having learned from the experiences of organisations over the last six years the revised standard is now much clearer in its intent and far more practical.

For example the previous revision gave the impression that an organisation needed to create a separate entity called a Quality Management System. Not surpris-ingly this created a situation where the organisation was following and maintaining two systems – their established business management system (how they do their business on a day to day basis), and a separate quality management system (purely to keep the quality auditors happy).

This was never the intention of the standard and certainly wasn’t the way it should have been interpreted.

The new revision has been radically restructured so that the standard can be more easily applied to an organisation’s existing busi-ness processes. In effect it provides the basic business principles that are relevant to any successful organisation.

To demonstrate the versatility of the revised standard some organisations have completely eliminated the word Quality from their documentation. Not that they don’t want to achieve a quality outcome, but because they feel that the word has been over-used and has lost its intended meaning.

So what traditionally has been referred to as a Quality Manage-ment System they are now referring to as a Business Management System. The so-called Quality Manual has become the System Overview, and the Quality Manager has become the Business Process Manager.

Surprising to some, the standard doesn’t stipulate that the word Quality must be used, and neither does it stipulate any of these alternative names. It simply implies that the names used should be meaningful and that staff understand them.

Copies of the ISO 9001:2000 standard can be obtained from Standards Australia, phone 9221 6700 to order, or download from www.standards.com.au

· David Page is an independent consultant with David Page Consulting.

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